Categories: Environment

Electro-bus rolls this week

New electric bus unveiled in St. Albert this week.

Hear that? That near-silence may just be the sound of one of St. Albert’s new electric buses rolling up next to you.

St. Albert’s three new electric buses are expected to hit city streets as early as this Monday, said St. Albert Transit director Kevin Bamber.

Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason and Mayor Nolan Crouse unveiled the vehicles Tuesday at Servus Credit Union Place, with Mason himself driving one of them through a commemorative ribbon.

Bamber said the buses cost $962,000 each, two-thirds of which was paid for by the province’s GreenTRIP program. The intent is for these buses to run on any route currently done by the standard 40-foot diesel ones. Diesel buses cost about half the cost of the electric buses.

St. Albert is now the first place in Canada to have full-sized electric buses running regular transit service, said Coun. Wes Brodhead, who sits on the Capital Region Board’s transit committee. Other communities have electric buses, but those are on shorter, dedicated routes.

“It shows that we’re forward thinking, that we’re visionary about where the community needs to go and how we need to service it.”

The buses will have zero tailpipe emissions apart from a diesel heater that will kick in whenever it gets colder than 5 C, Brodhead said. Each bus gets about 233 km per charge, which is what most buses drive in a day.

A 2015 study on the buses found that they should produce 44 to 51 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than diesel ones. The new buses look the same as the city’s current diesel ones, apart from the words “electric power” and a stylised power cord on the side.

Fleet manager Tom Kumka took the Gazette for a test drive in one of the new buses.

The buses use electric motors on their rear wheels to move, he explained. Despite being just a bit bigger than the wheel’s hub, those motors crank out a ridiculous 220 horsepower – enough power to send you stumbling to the back of the bus if you don’t have a tight grip on a handhold.

“For a bus this size, this is excellent pick-up,” Kumka said.

The buses are about five feet shorter than the diesel ones, making them easier to manoeuvre, Kumka said. They’re also the first in the fleet to have air-conditioning, which should improve rider comfort.

The buses are exceedingly quiet compared to the sometimes-deafening diesel models, with only a faint whir from the motors audible inside. There’s no angry hiss from the doors when they open – they use electric motors instead of hydraulics – and virtually no noise when the bus rolls away after you depart, apart from the sound of the tires.

Bamber said these buses cost about $500,000 less to run than diesel ones over their 18-year lifespan, which offsets their higher up-front cost.

When you consider higher purchase cost of electric buses, but lower operating costs, each electric bus is expected to save about $100,000 over its lifespan.

The electric buses actually save city taxpayers even more because they qualify for GreenTRIP funding. The city pays for diesel buses on its own.

The city expects to get another four electric buses this winter, and those will be even cheaper, as the federal and provincial governments will pay for 75 per cent of them.

“By buying electric, we were actually able to save money for the residents of St. Albert,” Bamber said.

It will be up to future councils to decide if St. Albert Transit goes fully electric, Bamber said. If the city continues to replace diesels at its current rate, the fleet will be all-electric by about 2033. Bamber said the city plans to rotate the electric buses through all the city’s routes so everyone gets a chance to ride them. Check stalbert.ca/city/transit to find out if the electric bus is on your bus route.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.